Kenyans remember Safari Rally Ace Waldegard with nostalgia
NAIROBI, Sept. 1 (Xinhua) — Kenyans will remember Bjorn Waldegard, the Swedish rally ace who in 1979 became the first man to win the World Rally Championships for Drivers (WRC), with a lot of nostalgia.
Waldegard, who passed away on Aug. 30, won the Safari Rally described then as the toughest, longest and most challenging rally of the WRC series in 1977, 1984, 1986 and 1990.
“Its essential character was a hard and rugged, fierce competitive rally running through both wet and dry conditions across a truly African landscape in which victory depended more on tactical mastery rather than the mad sprint dash akin to European rallies,” former Kenyan rally champion Phineas Kimathi said on Monday.
“Then suddenly the rally became a grand prix of sorts, racing along dust-ridden tracks,” Kimathi said.
For 30 odd years, the Safari Rally was held over the four-day Easter period during which Waldegard and his peer rally drivers kept the country and the rest of the world glued on radio and television, as the rally fans monitored the progress of their favourite drivers.
Images of cars swerving and swishing and battling their way through extensive mud tracks and dusty cattle routes are still vividly etched in the minds of senior citizens, some of whom had forfeit sleep to watch man and machine zoom by, depending on what hour of the day the cars passed ones locale.
“The Safari Rally became synonymous with the four-day Easter period and it was not unusual for fans to brave the diverse weather just to catch a glimpse of the drivers and their machines, ” reminisces 68-year old Juma Okari.
The death-knell for the Safari Rally sounded in 1992 when the organizers got at loggerheads with the FIA the global body that governs motor racing with the FIA insisting it wanted to make every rally in the series a fast and furious rally that was suitable for television and live spectator viewers across the globe.
“Ultimately this meant shorter, faster daytime rallies. Speed could not be achieved in wet conditions,” Kimathi said.